Culture

Codename: Liberal

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg after their conviction. (Library of Congress)
New York City honors a monster.

New York’s city council has taken it upon itself to posthumously honor Ethel Rosenberg, a Soviet spy who helped, in her modest way, the worldwide Communist enterprise to murder some 100 million people.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was joined by three city-council members earlier this week in issuing proclamations honoring Rosenberg for “demonstrating great bravery.” They also affirmed their belief — in spite of heavy evidence to the contrary — that she was wrongfully executed for her role in the Soviet spy ring dedicated to stealing information about the U.S. atomic-bomb program in order to give Stalin et al. another weapon in their battery of terror.

Daniel Dromm, who for his sins is a Democrat representing Queens on the city council, said: “A lot of hysteria was created around anti-Communism and how we had to defend our country, and these two” — note that two — people were traitors, and we rushed to judgment and they were executed.”

There is practically no one left defending the innocence of Julius Rosenberg — even his children have admitted that he was a traitor and a spy. The only people who doubt the guilt of his wife, Ethel, are those with a very strong ideological resistance to the facts of the case. Among other things, we have the word of Nikita Khrushchev, who writes in his memoirs of the help the Rosenbergs, plural, provided in the Soviet nuclear-weapons program; we have the communications of the Soviet spymaster to whom they answered, who in his missives to Moscow describes Ethel as an operative; we have the Venona papers, the declassified Soviet archives in which that same handler, Aleksandr Feklisov, writes of Ethel’s role in recommending new espionage recruits, etc. Yes, there are instances of conflicting testimony in the case, as there are in every mugging, and Ethel’s brother, who had originally omitted any mention of his sister’s role in the spy ring, changed his testimony when his wife told a different story. None of this is enough — not nearly — to outweigh the plain archival evidence in Soviet records.

RELATED: How Robert Conquest’s History Book Made History

There is some controversy, a matter of historical trivia, about whether the Rosenbergs were effective spies; some Soviet scientists involved in the nuclear-weapons program have dismissed the information they provided as useless. Being a bad spy, however, is not a defense against espionage charges. The record is clear that in the matter of the crimes with which they were charged — treason and conspiracy to commit espionage — the Rosenbergs, both of them, were guilty as charged.

#share#The Communist movement worldwide murdered some 100 million people over the course of the 20th century. The Soviet enterprise specifically, to which the Rosenbergs were fiercely committed — they are described as “devoted” in the Soviet literature — had at the time of the Rosenbergs’ recruit already intentionally starved to death some 8 million people in Ukraine for the purposes of political terror. I do not wish to include them here, but put “Holodomor” into Google images if you want a visual indicator of this. And the many crimes against humanity committed by Joseph Stalin and his regime were no secret.

So, why the hesitation to admit plainly that these monsters were monsters and deserved what they got?

It is more than symbolic that Julius Rosenberg’s Soviet codename was: Liberal.

The American liberal intellectual class simply cannot bring itself to believe that the villain of any story is one of their own.

As in the case of Alger Hiss, the American liberal intellectual class simply cannot bring itself to believe that the villain of any story is one of their own. The villain has to be a figure from the outer darkness, some atavistic American throwback — a Nixon, a McCarthy, a J. Edgar Hoover — motivated by something sinister and occult. The facts of the case can never be the facts of the case. Hollywood screenwriters, State Department bosses, and Lower East Side radicals working for the Soviet Union? “No, no, they’re only being targeted because they’re homosexuals, or intellectuals, or Jews.” (The ironic contrast of these imaginary persecutions with the actual Soviet record on homosexuals, intellectuals, and Jews never occurs to them.) “It must be hatred, or bigotry, or self-interest, or political ambition, or something.” It may have been the case that Joe McCarthy was a bigot, that Hoover was a weirdo, that Richard Nixon and Bobby Kennedy were not averse to the prospect of political advancement; but it also was the case that there were Americans in influential and sensitive positions working as part of a criminal conspiracy to advance the interests of a homicidal, terroristic, mass-murdering, psychotic operator of gulags and death camps.

“But, McCarthy was mean!” Not mean enough. Not by half.

Karl Marx, in whatever spectral afterlife the old monster is enjoying, must be smiling as American history repeats itself, moving on from tragedy to farce. Just as denunciations of the “Red Scare” were used to draw attention away from the crimes of American individuals and institutions undertaken in service of the Soviet Union, now cries of “Islamophobia!” are being used to muddy the waters in the matter of the participation of American and Western people and institutions in the worldwide Islamic jihad against the West. From the New York Times, we learn: “More British Muslim men have joined ISIS and the Nusra Front than are serving in the British armed forces.” Here in the United States, the Council on American Islamic Relations operates openly and with the full protection of the law, in spite of its being identified by the Department of Justice as an unindicted coconspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, in which a phony charity was used to channel money to Hamas. (My colleague Andrew C. McCarthy, who knows a little something about Islamic terrorism, has done a great deal of work on CAIR, e.g., here.) Another group with Saudi and Muslim Brotherhood links holds the titles to hundreds of American mosques. Odd? Worrisome? “Islamophobia!”

Prediction: In 30 years, when they’re renaming Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan “Osama bin Laden Plaza,” some jackass from Queens will deliver a homily: “A lot of hysteria was created around Islamic terrorism and how we had to defend our country . . . ”

Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.

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